UPDATE: Mattanaw Mattanaw today turned to Facebook to offer his version of the alleged gunplay on Stewarts Road last week that led to him being charged with a felony for driving around randomly shooting and two misdemeanors, including reckless endangerment, for spraying upper Potter Valley with gunfire.
To say his version of events is radically different from the situation described by the Alaska Police Department would be an understatement. Here is his post in its entirety:
“But funny and kinda shitty thing happened. My neighbor called the police on me randomly with a claim about gun usage, and when I was out for a jog they arrested me and took me straight to jail. I just got out today. Crazy scenario. So it looks like I have yet another court case on my hand (sic). This one looks easier than the earlier though, so I think I will easily prevail. But geez… to be in prison a first time. Odd experience.”
Alaska’s rich, sad history with end-of-the-roaders opened a new chapter last week with a report to the Anchorage Pollice Department of a flurry of gunfire along a controversial, barricaded road on the edge of the state’s largest city.
The outskirts of Anchorage might seem a strange place to find an end-of-the roader, but there is where Mattanaw Mattanaw – legally given name Christopher Matthew Cavanaugh – decided to base his “off-the-grid” Alaska adventure.
This being the 21st century, he took to the internet to share his story with the world after his on-again, off-again forays to Alaska began a half-dozen years ago.
In his many social media posts since are some echoes of the late Christoper McCandless, AKA “Alexander Supertramp,” among whose last recorded words were those proclaiming “Two years he walks the Earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road.”
Along with this came a whole lot more provided in much greater detail than anything left behind by McCandless, whose record of the road to starvation was a 430-word diary found along with his body in a deserted bus he’d made his home along the Stampede Road in Central Alaska.
The lack of any real record of what happened to him on the edge of the wilderness north of Denali National Park and Preserve between the spring and fall of 1992 enabled writer John Krakauer to pen a speculative history of McCandless’s life called “Into the Wild,” that made poor, dead Supertramp posthumously famous.
Mattanaw has left a more complete record that goes from the silliness of portraying the suburbs of Alaska’s largest city as the end of the road to showing some hints of paranoia.
On Jan. 13, 2019, he posted a video of himself chaining his truck up for “icy dangers” as he tried to make his way along what is locally known as “Stewarts Road” to a fifth-wheel trailer he’d towed to near the edge of the half-million-acre Chugach State Park.
A few weeks later, he claimed to have found himself “stuck between a moose and a winterbear.”
With the road blocked by a moose with a calf that night, he claimed to have left his truck parked in the middle of the road, then “walking, in pitch black conditions, with some reflection from the snow, and flashlight in hand, I navigated down a steep hill to bypass the moose. When I came back up the hill to the road, after much hiking, I found I was only about 30 feet ahead of that same large moose. But I was happy because at least I could get back to my RV, or so I thought.
“Then, as I walked down the road, I spotted another animal. A large black bear. In winter. For some reason it emerged from hibernation. So I was stuck between a large black bear and a large moose with no way to get back to my truck but to scurry down a steep slope of ice and snow and back up to the road. I didn’t go as far down the hill because I was worried about the bear, so I was dangerously close to the moose. I was more scared of the bear than the moose, but the moose loomed large, and appeared to be as dangerous as the bear.
“I made it back to the truck, and to a hotel to stay for the night, but that was a pretty sketchy situation to be in.”
Bears rarely emerge from hibernation in the winter, but it does sometimes happen. There are no steep slopes of ice along Stewarts Road in the winter although there can be considerable snow.
In April of this year, Mattanaw authored a post on “Responding When Stopped by Police,” observing that “after being harassed in a Starbucks, I took a picture of the person harassing me with my laptop. She had already pretended to take a photo of me first. After seeing that I may have taken a picture of her and her companion, she immediately demanded that I remove it from my device, and started to create an altercation. I decided to leave, and while leaving a Starbucks employee followed me out the door as if I had done something wrong, and asked to (sic) explain what ocurred (sic). Without at all considering that nothing was wrong, and immediately assuming I somehow did something wrong….
“In the last few years I have been targeted with a good amount of harassment and I think it likely that a similar ocurrence (sic) will happen again. I also noticed there is a very strong trend for people to simply harass people until provoking a response, in which they plan to lie about to create a negative situation with police.
“I also thought earlier it might be necessary to have a very solid approach with law enforcement in case of getting pulled over too, and for that reason, I planned to have a strategy that would mostly cover all situations….”
He went on to suggest everyone’s response to a potential contact with law enforcement should be to carry a letter written on “legal letterhead” basically providing your name and offering a description of how you are an all-around good guy, then if approached thanking “the officer for their service BEFORE handing over the legal letter” and saying “if approached, stopped, etc…: ‘Please read this from my attorney before we talk.'”
It does not appear Mattanaw followed any of his recommendations when five units of the APD responding to a call of shots fired along Stewarts Road descended on his Hillside hideaway.
Bang, bang, bang
“On June 9, 2022, at about 2013 hours, officers were dispatched to 18800 Steamboat Drive in reference to a male (the defendant Christopher Cavanaugh) firing rounds from a vehicle he is driving up and down a shared driveway,” Anchorage Police wrote in charging documents filed in court the next day.
The “shared driveway” is what is otherwise known as the dirt, one-lane, nearly two-mile-long Stewarts Road, which is at this time the subject of legal action. The route is an old homestead road back into Potter Valley that crosses a parcel of land Louisianan Frank Pugh bought in 2016. He subsequently constructed a barbed-wire topped gate to keep out the local residents and others who’d long hiked the road but were now, in Pugh’s eyes, trespassers.
The Municipality of Anchorage told Pugh the gate was blocking a public right-of-way and ordered him to tear it down. Pugh refused. Negotiations to get him to change his mind went nowhere.
The response of area homeowners was eventually to form a group called Friends of the Stewart Public Trail to take to court Pugh and Mattanaw, a landowner further up the valley who Pugh had pumped full of trespasser fears. Friends shared the view of the municipality that the old road had long ago become a public access due to its decades of uninterrupted use. An Anchorage Superior Court judge is expected to soon offer a ruling on that lawsuit.
Fortunately, it appears no one was hiking the road – there are a variety of ways around the gate – when Mattanaw, for whatever reason, allegedly decided to start shooting with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, judging from the spent casings left along the road, and possibly a 9mm semi-automatic, a weapon he had sometimes been seen carrying.
Police reported arriving on the scene of the reported shooting and talking “with the complainant (M.B.), who informed the police that the defendant had been firing shots from a gun the last two days but all the neighbors have been scared to call. M.B. (Cavanaugh’s nearest neighbor) gave the officers another neighbor’s name and number who lives across the valley from Cavanaugh and who can see the property.
“L.C. stated she witnessed the defendant driving up and down the driveway and hearing gunshots coming from his vehicle (a white van). Officers approached the defendant’s trailer and while they were by the patrol vehicles, the defendant approached the officers. The defendant had a strong odor of alcohol and also had bloodshot and watery eyes.
“Officer Murray applied for and received a search warrant. There were several spent shell casings up the driveway and by the trailer. There were shell casings inside the defendant’s van as well. There were shell casings near the entry of the trailer and inside the bedroom of the trailer.
“There were bullet holes (entry and exit) in the trailer as well. In the defendant’s bedroom, there were significant amount(s) of ammunition and two handguns on the floor on the left side of the bed. The defendant denied shooting his gun and said he had poachers on his property that shoot animals.”
Mattanaw was arrested and hauled off to the city jail. He has since been charged with a felony for driving around shooting from his truck and two misdemeanors, one of which is reckless endangerment.
Readers are reminded that these are only charges, and it has not been proven that Mattanaw was one doing the shooting along Stewarts Road though there are obvious bullet holes to be seen in his trailer and in signs along the road – signs of which Mattanaw was once very proud.
The signs went up shortly after the then-Christopher Cavanaugh bought the property and Pugh convinced him of the need to stop trespassers.
Cavanaugh had by then already claimed the new name Mattanaw – much as McCandless claimed the name Alexander Supertramp – but Cavanaugh didn’t legally become Mattanaw until July 1, 2020 when state records reflect the Alaska Court System recognized his change of name to “Mattanaw Christopher Matthew Cavanaugh Mattanaw.”
One could probably now call him MCMC Mattanaw for short, although this is really not something to joke about given the state’s history with end-of-the-roaders. Several of them have gone on shooting sprees that left behind not blasted signs but bodies.
Possibly the best known of these shootings happened in 1983 when Louis Hastings, described as an “unemployed computer programmer,” opened fire in the tiny community of McCarthy at the end of the dead-end McCarthy Road that runs east from the nowhere community of Chitina into the heart of the wild, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve abutting the Alaska-Canada border.
A summer, tourism boomtown, McCarthy chills down to almost nothing in the winter. There were 22 people resident there in the winter of ’83. The 39-year-old Hastings shot and killed six of them and injured two more before Alaska State Troopers arrived on the scene in an airplane to arrest him.
‘Why did Louis Hastings go on a murderous rampage and kill his neighbors?” Alaska writer asked in a 2018 story for the website Medium. “The reason is nearly as bizarre as the crimes themselves. Hastings was an intelligent computer programmer who had worked at Stanford University in the late 1970s, but like many people who move to Alaska, he left the overdeveloped area where he lived in California with dreams of starting a new life in the unspoiled wilderness of Alaska.
“At first, he and his wife settled in Anchorage, and he started a computer-service business out of his house, but by 1982, his business and marriage had failed, and he began to spend more and more time at his cabin in Kennicott. Alaska’s economy was booming in 1983 due to the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline that carries oil from Prudhoe Bay south to the port of Valdez on Prince William Sound. The state was flush with money and in the midst of a construction boom. Hastings hated the pipeline and related development it had created, and he felt the state’s newfound prosperity would ruin the lifestyle he had dreamed of when he’d moved to Alaska. It became his mission to destroy the pipeline.”
There are some parallels with Mattanaw. The 41-year-old Mattanaw arrived in Alaska from the Lower 48 with a wife. They are now divorced. Mattanaw claims to have the IQ of a genius, which he has said makes it difficult for him to function socially. His LinkedIn profile describes him as a former “internal advisor” to Adobe Partners Solutions and an “architect” at Virtusa, a computer tech company.
Mattanaw grew up in the Washington, D.C. area before migrating west. Friends say he is a vegan. He has posted detailed information about his background online, including photos of his passport, finger prints, Social Security card, Maryland driver’s license, and some medical history – information most people prefer to keep private.
A self-proclaimed Sierra Club member, he has for some time been obsessed with “trespassers” on the road through his property to the former Stewart property abutting Chugach State Park, but the alleged shootings appear to have been preceded by some sort of disagreement with his nearest neighbor along Stewarts Road, a neighbor now reportedly terrified that Mattanaw has been released from jail.
Said neighbor will probably not rest any easier given Mattanaw’s latest social media post, a Tiktok video that went up today and was cross-posted on Facebook. It features a neck cord to which are attached a whistle, a GoPro camera, a small canister of pepper spray, an automotive remote and a couple of other objectives hard to identify.
The message is not clear, but it doesn’t sound friendly. The video was posted Wednesday afternoon.
Editor’s note: The author is a former Cavanaugh neighbor, and one of many alleged trespassers who has continued to use Stewarts Road as it had been personally used for more than two decades before Pugh and Cavanaugh declared it theirs. There is an exchange on this subject posted by Cavanaugh here. It was shot in 2019. He was at the time polite and non-threatening. Contacted on social media about the alleged shootings of last week, he replied that “any contact from you is unwanted” and threatened legal action. The author is not a member of Friends of the Stewart Trail and was not involved in the lawsuit.